What is CIFE?
CIFE is a professional association of independent sixth-form colleges. CIFE colleges range from small city-based establishments to large boarding schools, from colleges offering full two-year A level and GCSE programmes to short course specialists. What they have in common is an emphasis on the individual and an enviable reputation for getting the best out of their students. CIFE membership builds on this outlook to help colleges flourish.
Collectively, CIFE colleges have particular expertise in providing relationship-based teaching which is very effective in helping sixth-formers become university-ready, both academically and personally.
Why does CIFE membership help colleges?
Why do colleges belong to CIFE ? Because they recognise that membership helps them flourish. CIFE includes some of the most successful and effective colleges in the sector, so what benefits persuade them to become members?
1. Sharing experiences, challenges and ideas
CIFE membership helps colleges keep up with change, from new exams and inspection rules to the latest ideas in marketing.
CIFE's conferences include keynote speakers on topics which help members stay ahead. Recently these have included:
- the use of social media in marketing
- up to the minute information about the ever-changing visa rules
- new examination regulations
- changes in inspection compliance.
CIFE also works with the Independent Schools Association (ISA) to provide training events on sixth-form issues.
For many Principals it is the informal exchange of information and ideas which they value most. Finding out how other colleges approach issues such as:
- teaching gifted students
- promoting student mental health
- effective and fair complaints procedures
can be very helpful in improving the provision of one's own college.
Although colleges compete to an extent in some of the same marketplaces, subscribing to the same ethos engenders considerable trust and willingness to share.
As one head of a CIFE college put it:
"Being Principal can be a pretty lonely job, and knowing that I can pick up the phone and speak to someone I trust who's in the same position can be incredibly supportive. The success and the diversity of approach amongst our members is a real source of challenge and inspiration in making sure my college thrives".
2. CIFE helps colleges recruit students
A major part of the CIFE Secretary's job is to help prospective students and their parents choose the right college. In 2014 we referred over 700 of those enquirers to CIFE colleges, and 10% of them enrolled with a CIFE member. The 10% commission that CIFE charges colleges in such cases provides over 75% of CIFE's income, enabling CIFE membership subscriptions to be kept low.
3. CIFE helps raise your profile
CIFE runs an effective PR service. Journalists often turn first to CIFE when looking for information about our sector, and regularly seek quotes from CIFE Principals.
In addition to promoting CIFE as a professional organisation, the CIFE website provides an extremely useful marketing tool for individual colleges:
- it attracts over 180,000 visitors a year, and is ranked on Google page 1 for a number of key search terms (such as one year A level)
- each college has a free page on the site, which receives (on average) 1500 visitors a year, 350 of whom are interested enough to click through to the college's own website. CIFE makes no per-click charge
- the detailed on-line advice articles help build CIFE colleges' reputations as trustworthy and competent organisations.
Each year CIFE awards prizes for the highest achievers across all member colleges; for example, in maths, science, social science, humanities, at GCSE etc.
Every college is also entitled to award one student from its population the title of ‘student of the year’. The House of Lords provides a magnificent setting for the presentations, for winners and their parents, many of whom travel several thousand kilometres to attend.
CIFE awards provide extremely positive publicity for individual colleges.
CIFE also sponsors inter-college events designed to provide student-centred activities with a difference. The 2016 Soccer tournament was held at the National Football Centre, and the CIFE Challenge Quiz took place in New College of the Humanities in London.
4. CIFE membership provides reassurance for parents
Making the right choice is an onerous responsibility for parents and they welcome the additional stamp of approval that CIFE membership provides.
"With such a wide range of colleges offering AS and A levels, parents are faced with a bewildering choice, and they often need reassurance about the colleges that they are considering for their sons or daughters. Of course all colleges get inspected, but CIFE membership gives us that extra edge in showing that we can be trusted to do a good job. " A CIFE College Principal
5. CIFE gives our sector a voice with policy makers
CIFE's expertise and membership enable us to influence policy-making decisions relevant to the independent post-16 sector.
With the help of our President, Lord Lexden, CIFE lobbies on topics ranging from student visa quotas to special consideration allowances in examinations.
Lord Lexden also hosts the annual CIFE Awards ceremony in the House of Lords.
How to find out more?
Interested in your college joining CIFE?
Read 'How to become a member of the Council for Independent Education' to find out what's involved. You'll need to contact the CIFE Secretary for an application form if you decide to go ahead.